Some call Habo a zeruzeru—a zero-zero—nothing. Others willingly pursue the riches his albino body parts will bring on the black market in Sullivan’s intense debut.
With his white skin, shaky, blue, unfocused eyes and yellow hair, 13-year-old Habo fits nowhere in his chocolate-brown Tanzanian family—not with his brothers who shun him, nor even with his mother, who avoids his touch. Did this bad-luck child even cause his father to abandon him at his birth? Only Habo’s sister, Asu, protects and nurtures him. Poverty forces the family from their rural home near Arusha to Mwanza, hundreds of miles away, to stay with relatives. After their bus fare runs out, they hitch a ride across the Serengeti with an ivory poacher who sees opportunity in Habo. Forced to flee for his life, the boy eventually becomes an apprentice to Kweli, a wise, blind carver in urban Dar es Salaam. The stark contrasts Habo experiences on his physical journey to safety and his emotional journey to self-awareness bring his growth into sharp relief while informing readers of a social ill still prevalent in East Africa. Thankfully for readers as well as Habo, the blind man’s appreciation challenges Habo to prove that he is worth more alive than dead. His present-tense narration is keenly perceptive and eschews self-pity.
A riveting fictional snapshot of one Tanzanian boy who makes himself matter. (Fiction. 12-16)